Relating to adult children — 31 August 2009
Guiding your adult child toward independence

A reader who suggested this topic stated, “Getting teens out of the house and off on their own causes pain to many parents.” Indeed, according to U.S. Statistics in 2005 53% of 18-24 years old males and 46% of females were living at home with their parents. Though most young adults say they want autonomy, some seem to lack incentive, drive, skills or motivation to seek it and thus remain financially dependent.

The parental dilemma is how to successfully motivate the young adult, who may have skills, aptitude or even the education necessary for self-sufficiency, toward autonomous living without appearing as rejecting, non-supportive parents.

Four factors that may have contributed to young adults’ reluctance to forge into independence are: early parental micromanagement, excessively scheduling in younger years, over-protectiveness, and current economic conditions.

Some good parents’ zeal to provide the best and easiest life for their children may have led to excessive indulgence and micromanaging of their lives. The overly involved parents may have done too much and expected too little from their youngsters. For example, “Lets sit down and do the homework now” may be very kind – but fails to assign the responsibility for schoolwork to the child.

For some youngsters, dependence was learned during their childhood’s over- programmed schedule. The worthwhile extra–curricular activities may not have been of their choosing and may have taught them to be “managed” rather than guided. They may not have practiced making choices, problem solving, exploring options and learning interpersonal skills needed to manage their own preferences.

In their desire to safeguard their children from adversity, some parents react to any problem the youngster faces with over-protectiveness. These parents blindly take their children’s side and wage their youngsters’ battles. Growing children may find comfort in always being right and protected, but lose the awareness of their own capacity for error or the skills needed to fend for themselves. This makes it hard for them to leave the safety and protection of their home environment – in which few demands are made of them.

Economic considerations are another major factor in some adult children’s delay in leaving home. The high unemployment, low wages and high rents, render unemployed young adults financially trapped. Avery, and associates found that ”better-off parents subsidize their children’s departure in order to achieve greater privacy.” When parents are unable to do so, their stress mounts watching their youngsters utilize resources without contributing to costs. According to Aquilino and Supple, parents’ financial distress is not about the youngsters’ lack of contribution toward room and board, but about their day-to-day financial dependence.

Parental pain about children who do not leave home is multifaceted. Parents worry about their children’s future, their competence, unhappiness, distress, depression, apathy, fears and loss of direction and ambition. They may be frightened by the chance that their offspring may not embark on a path of vocational and personal fulfillment they deserve. Parents may also feel defeated in their upbringing results.

What can you do to propel your adult child toward self-sufficiency?

• Let go of the parenting role and offer your adult child acceptance, respect, encouragement and guidance as you would with another adult.
• Abstain from managing your child’s life. Instead, empower your youngster to chart his/her own course.
• Provide guidance through questions. “Have you considered asking your friend how he found his job?”
• Set clear adult-to-adult expectations. “Since we live together, which three communal chores would you prefer to do weekly?”
• Be positive. Avoid complaining and criticizing, it disempowers, frightens and immobilized your child.
• Set clear rules of conduct and consequences as you would with an adult tenant, such as: the use of alcohol, tobacco, drugs, parties, noise or overnight guests. Use tough love to enforce them.
• Praise your child often. State your confidence in his/her gifts, skills, talents and abilities to pursue and achieve success.

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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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